Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Picture(s) of the Week - Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, Wyoming with the Teton Range in the far background

Looking north from Snow King Mountain over Jackson Valley

The Tetons from the other side looking south towards Jackson
*Blog title picture is Carter with the Tetons in the background.

If money and politics were no object, Jackson Hole, Wyoming would definitely be on my list of top places to live and raise our girls. It's one of the most majestic and beautiful places I've ever been, and it is an outdoor enthusiast's Mecca. However, due to it's celebrity status real estate prices are through the roof. And, due to it's location in Wyoming, a cowboy-conservative hotbed (think Dick Chaney), it will have live on in my memory and simply remain a stunning place to visit.

I snapped the photos above on my road trip from Oregon to Ontario with Carter (our dog) in July 2011. Karen, Momo (the cat) and #1 went by air, our belongings went by truck, and Carter and I went by Subaru Outback (perfect car for this kind of trip BTW). I had pre-planned the first couple days of our trip in order to secure hotels that would accommodate dogs. The rest of our trip would either be spent sneaking into hotels if we had to (Iowa), or tent camping, which we did further east in Wyoming and again in South Dakota at Badlands National Park (pictures forthcoming). 

Carter and I arrived in Jackson Hole on our second day after spending our first night in Boise, Idaho. Jackson had me at hello. I expected it to be idyllic, scenic, and outdoorsy. It delivered on every level. I was captivated by the quaint small town setting and surrounding mountains before even stepping out of the car. Once I did step out of the car at our hotel, I checked us in and immediately booked another night. 

It was like this place was specifically designed for me and the dog. Those who know me well will attest to the fact I'm driven by some inner urge to run or hike up any mountain or hill that provides the opportunity to do so. Karen and I trekked the Himalayas in Nepal for a week basically as an extended first date after having met in the Kathmandu airport. We hiked the Machu Picchu trail in Peru on our honeymoon. We (Carter included) spent our years before #1 routinely hiking trails in Oregon with 3000 - 4000 feet of gain (Dog Mountain, Ruckle Ridge). While living in Portland, if time allowed, I'd set off on runs up into the West Hills where you can gain over 1000' in a mile or two. On past family vacations in Mexico and Hong Kong, I set out on runs with the intention of navigating my way through the city to the top of the nearest mountain. In Hong Kong that means Victoria Peak, which towers 1800' over the bustling city below. It's an amazing juxtaposition. Something about getting to the top, or as close as possible, has always compelled me.  

Hong Kong - I started to the right of the "X" building down by the water.
Well, similar to Hong Kong, Jackson Hole has a mountain, Snow King, that juts right out of the downtown core. However, unlike Hong Kong, which is obviously at sea level, Jackson sits at an elevation of 6,200' and Snow King rises straight-up nearly 1600' from there. Needless to say, the first thing Carter and I did was walk the three blocks from our hotel over to the base of the mountain, which serves as a popular place to picnic and chillax during the summer months. There were trails leading off in every direction and I had every intention of hiking to the top with Carter on-leash. Imagine our surprise when we soon discovered the entire mountain beyond the designated picnic area served as an off-leash dog park as well. Elated and invigorated by the scenery before us and the surrounding mountain gods, we power-hiked to the top.

As we reached the top, and evening approached, a beautiful thing began to happen. The clouds, which had been partially obscuring the Teton Range range in the distance (pictured above), started to part as the sun descended to the west. It was a magical moment. Everything before me was on such a massive scale. The valley. The Tetons. The King. The moment. I had to capture this on camera. However, my camera was back in the hotel room and the sun was setting...fast. We ran...fast.

Rather than taking the main trail back down, which had several switchbacks, we opted for a less used side trail with a more direct route to the base of the mountain. Ripping down the mountain leaping off rocks, stumps, and logs was an exhilarating experience I will not soon forget. There's nothing like jumping off a few logs on a trail to make you feel youthful, giddy, and in the moment.  

I quickly dropped Carter off, put on my running shoes, grabbed the camera, and made my way back to The King. I raced the setting sun back up the mountain and stopped to take pictures along the way. When I reached the top for a second time I finally took a moment to sit and reflect on the serene beauty before me as well as my life in general.

#1 was only nine months old. I had read somewhere that having a child and moving are considered two of the top five most stressful things in life, and here we were just getting used to the reality we had created a human life that we were responsible for loving and rearing, AND we were moving our entire lives from one side of the continent to the other. Not to mention Karen was embarking on going back to school for four years as part of a career change, and I would be seeking employment (another top 5). This was some heavy shit. I wanted Karen and #1 to be able to experience this moment with me.

However, ultimately, this was meant to be a solo mission. Not only did it afford me the opportunity to reflect on the trajectory of our lives, but it also served as closure to a deeply personal, emotional journey that had started back in Oregon, which spanned many years and spread across many countries. This moment and this place specifically was also about my buddy, Matt, who had lost his battle with cancer the previous year.

I had known Matt since Little League baseball. We had lived together in college and for a couple years post-college in Portland. We had travelled together for six months in SE Asia in our early twenties. In the ensuing years I went on to teach English in South Korea and Singapore, and he went on to film school in Miami. Though life took us in separate directions we remained good friends and had recently reunited in Portland.

Matt had a special affinity for Jackson Hole, and after he passed away his family spread some of his ashes in the surrounding hills. This was our moment together. I'm sure those clouds would've spread and the sun would've popped out on its own that day, but part of me likes to think it was Matt making sure I made it back up to the top of The King to soak it all in.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Guelph Lake 5K - Race Report

My first road 5k race and my first overall win of any kind! No...really...I actually won the race outright. Crazy. Granted, this was just a small local race, and the dude who won the 10k and the gal who was 2nd probably would've dusted me based on their 10k times, and the fact they were already a couple seconds ahead of me at the 5k turnaround point. But, still, a win is a win as they say.

Imagine my surprise when we reached the 5k turnaround point and the two people ahead me kept going. I even asked the kid "manning" the point if he said anything as they went by because I was sure they simply missed the tiny sign that read "5k turnaround" attached to an orange cone in the middle of the road. 

His reply, "I don't know. They must be running the 10k." Great job bud. Way to tackle your duty with enthusiasm and vigor. 

In an instant my race had changed completely. I went from trying to hang on to the two in front of me to being the leader of the race. As the leader, I had my own marshall out in front on his bike with his high visibility vest clearing the narrow road of oncoming race participants. I could hear him saying, "To the right. Leader coming through." There were chants of encouragement from friends and complete strangers as I made my way back. This was a first for me, and it felt great. 

However, with this race leader position came a unique brand of pressure I'd obviously never felt before to maintain the lead. Unfortunately, the undulating nature of the course coupled with a fast start trying to hang on to the 10k leaders were taking a toll on my body. My Garmin was set to beep at every 1k split and I noticed by the 3k mark each one was slower than the last. My breathing was heavy and labored. I was experiencing the weird stiff, dead leg thing I sometimes get in my right leg at higher speeds or very long distances (need to get that figured out). Even my arms were aching. I was going into maximum oxygen uptake/deprivation. Maybe the fact that I only had ten minutes to warm-up for this race was coming back to haunt me. 

"OK. You're winning this damn thing. Don't blow it." I knew I had a decent lead at the turnaround and I hadn't looked back since. 

"Just back off for small stretch. Get your breathing back in order and then maintain. Maybe I should walk for a bit? At the very least I could back it down to 4min km and still come in under 19 minutes, and I'd be happy with that." These are some of the things that went through my head between the 3-4k markers. Not exactly positive thinking. I was in a pain hole, and I was on my own. And, my brain, muscles, and organs weren't getting the vital oxygen they needed.

"1K to go, Eric. Looking good." My dedicated bike marshall hollered back to me. He was obviously lying about the looking good part.

"1K...that's it? Shit, I got this." I had entered my suffer hole, but come out the other side. I began to recognize aspects of the course. Onlookers began to appear. I could hear the faint sound of race director John on the P.A. system just around the corner and over the hill.

"400 meters, Eric. Bring it home." My trusty bike marshall had peeled off to the left.

As I crested the hill I heard something I won't soon forget. "And, here comes our 5k leader, Eric Schwindt, making his way towards the finish." 

I finished in 18:20, which I am very satisfied with considering the course is quite hilly and I only had four weeks of speed training in the bag. Things are trending in the right direction and I'm looking forward to this summer's upcoming races. Next up, the Summer's Night Classical 5K on July 9th.

Best part...I won a free pair of New Balance running shoes from The Running Works, which I'm going to collect right now.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Downtown Mile Race Report

About 400m into our first lap. 

My goal was to beat the two guys behind me.
Heart pounding. Lungs burning. Eyes bulging. Vision narrowing. Breathing labored. Am I going to able to maintain this pace? Have I gone into the danger zone? Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

No! I got this. Physically, I've been down this hole numerous times at the track and during interval reps on the road. Mentally, this doesn't even compare to the depths I've had to dig during every marathon I've ever run. This is a race and it's time to suffer better.

As a whole, the Speed River Inferno Downtown Mile was a fantastic experience. We had bright sunny skies and just enough cool in the air to make it an ideal evening for a race. The event had a nice, wholesome feel to it as there were loads of families and friends there to mill about, cheer, and even participate in the chillens 100m dash after the mile (including my #1 who got a late start due to a bib malfunction). The route was well-marked and marshaled, and plenty of fast people showed up sporting their running club or team singlets, which lead to an exciting race and a "photo" finish. As per usual for a local race in this town, we even had a couple olympians on hand as volunteers and spectators.

The race itself was awesome. Although, much of it is but a blur in my mind now. Rather than run for time, I decided to make it a race against competitors. Gathering at the start line I spotted two guys I was determined to beat. These weren't two randoms. No, these two had to go down for very specific reasons. The first fella (behind me in the blue singlet above), blew past me last fall after the first of two laps at the Falling Leaves cross-country 5K. He left a mark and I needed redemption. The second fella (behind me in the orange singlet), I'd seen over the past few weeks leading our club through intervals at the track while I did my own sessions. I needed to beat him just because.

As the gun went off and we streaked down the first straightaway (Carden Street), around the first and second bends, and up the "dreaded" hill (Gordon Street) I found myself right in the mix of the second pack of runners (top picture - the first pack were sub-5 minute milers). Most importantly, I was ahead of my two targets and I was determined not to let them pass at any cost. The race was on.

We rounded the last turn of the first lap and barrelled down Carden Street amongst the cheers of the crowd. As we approached the midway point, which also served as the finish line, I had passed two of the University of Guelph varsity girls pictured above and was closely trailing the third. But, more importantly, although I was totally locked-in and zoned-out, I picked up a faint "Go daddy!" from my left and knew it was number one cheering me on. With this extra bit of encouragement I was ready to dig in for the second and final lap despite the mounting discomfort of a near maximal effort.

We crossed the "halfway" point at the 2:45 mark, which was basically right on pace with what I thought I was capable of, but it left me a bit befuddled because it felt like we were moving faster than that. If I'm honest, it was eating at me. However, I didn't have much time to fester over it because as we rounded the left turn shortly after the line I clipped feet with the girl in front of me, which caused me to push out to the right, which caused more feet clipping with the guy behind me, who happened to be orange singlet man. At least I knew where he was. Not wanting the same thing to happen on the upcoming hard right hand turn just before the steep hill, I put in a quick surge (just like the training runs) to clear myself of the traffic.

As we hammered it up Gordon Street I had a brief sense of calm. It wasn't hurting as much as I had expected. The endurance I had built-up over the hundreds of runs during the previous months was paying off. I was putting some distance between myself and the group I had just surged away from. I was right where I wanted to be despite my slight disappointment with my midpoint time. I knew shortly at the top of the hill we'd have a gradual downhill and roughly only 400m left to go. I could use the downhill to catch my breath, and then give it everything I had.

Forget the folks behind me. I was after the guy ahead of me. After the downhill I had reeled him in to within a couple meters. As we rounded the last corner and headed into the final straight I spotted the finish line and the clock. Those racers who had just finished were either bent over at the knees gasping for air, or sprawled out on the ground in complete exhaustion. This is what the mile can do to you. The clock came into focus and it read 4:5something. There were guys legging it, arms flailing to get in under the 5-minute barrier. I couldn't manage to bring the guy in front of me any closer, but my time was looking pretty good.

I'd like to say the crowd was ushering me on, but everything had gone silent at this point. As it often does at the end of a race. It was just me, that finish line, and that clock. I crossed the line in 5:10. A pleasant surprise and a respectable time for my first mile. The first two finishers were separated by only .1 seconds (4:31.4 and 4:31.5). See below.

The dude on the right won.
I didn't have a massive negative split as my "halfway" time (2:45) and my finishing time (5:10) might suggest. There's no way I ran the second half of that race 20 seconds faster than the first. What I had failed to connect was our "halfway" split time included the Carden Street straightaway at the beginning, which took me about 19 seconds according to the race photos.  So, in reality I was right to think we were moving much faster than the clock read at the halfway point because we were, and it was actually the halfway plus a little bit point.  

I wasn't bent over or sprawled out on the ground gasping for air at the finish, so I think I may have left a few seconds out on the road. Guelph Lake 5K up next this coming weekend.

Coming through the eventual finish after the first straightaway.

Approaching the halfway point.

Setting up for the final lap.